On Writing, 7 July 19

From Little Summit on Mount Constitution

Every now and then, I reflect on why I write, what I love about writing, and what is true for me now.

Here’s what I’m thinking today . . .

I crave order, and I find order by working on a project. Sometimes writing doesn’t feel like the process has any order.

My happily ever after endings are never perfect but always satisfying.

New ideas glimmer like promises on the water’s surface, but upon closer inspection, most of them lack depth.

Depth can be created.

Layers infuse while revising. I liken this experience to a complex and beautiful garden or a really great meal. All the senses work together and the journey finds a trail and satisfying destination.


This is the time of year I love most (even if my allergies disagree).

A bald eagle in a tree near the North Valley Overlook on Turtleback Mountain

The birdsong and frog song, the succession of blooming plants, the longer days, and the shifts between sunshine and rain.

I’m finishing up a project that I’ll be sad to leave. I love the characters, the setting, the story. I’m sure I’ll be doing future revisions and edits, shifting and changing, but for now, I’m going to move onto the next big thing.

These moments of shifting can feel good. “Hey, I finished a book!”

Yet, I can also feel unsure.

The possibility awaits: wonderful and scary; exciting and daunting; a dash forward and a long pause. All those contrasts hit me, freeze me.

I’m back to the act of creating again. The pen to the notebook–


Dare Mighty Things

On a visit to JPL last year, I saw this sign in a building:

1620721_10204610843612551_5022080800203955897_n (1)

I’m not a scientist, not even close. I am in awe of all things inventive and new about science. I love the realm of possibility.

Dare Mighty Things doesn’t even make sense exactly. I mean, how do you dare a thing? Yet, that’s one of the reasons why I like the sign so much.

My sons and other members of my family have science brains. They can wrap their heads around abstract possibility, force, nature, numbers. I stand back and nod in awe.

Innovation leads to success,

Yet, failure is also a huge part of innovation.

Daring means things go wrong too. Mighty doesn’t always happen.

I cannot create an alternative fueled spaceship or navigate rovers on planets, but I can write.

The past few years I’ve had my own version of spectacular rockets blowing up.

Years of work on novels end in fiery ruin.

I stare at the pieces and start over,

Do it again

And again

And again.

Sometimes, it gets hard,

Painfully, wretchedly hard.

But what other choice do I have?

I have to create.

I have to write.

I cannot stop.

When I face that blank screen, the possibilities swarm through my brain.

My own version of space travel starts when my fingers hit the keyboard.

To possibility and beyond! 


Writers and others Involved in Projects,

You know that point when you have that Really Great Idea or RGI and plunge passionately into a project only to find yourself completely stuck a short time later?

Yes, I think you know what I mean.

Well, that’s happened to me. Fifty pages in, and I’m staring at Scrivener like it’s an unreadable map.

So, here’s my list of things to do to get going again:

1–Go back to my outline and see what I need to work on. Add, develop, or otherwise change.

2–Take a walk. Okay, I take lots of walks, but these do help.

3–Talk to my critique group.

4–Read. I have to be careful with this one; I tend to read to avoid getting unstuck.

5–Daydream. I do this every day, non stop. I’m a daydreaming champion!

6–Clean the house. My best ideas happen when I’m doing things I dislike . . .

7–Eat chocolate. This needs no explanation.

8–Talk to my sons. They’re funny, have good ideas, and are brutally honest about my bad ideas.

9–Remind myself how my day job is not my dream job. Always motivating!

10–Set a timer and get it done! One word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page . . .


Time to turn a RGI into a RGFT (Really Great Finished Thing)!


I found this disclaimer in the introduction of the mystery novel, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers:

For, however realistic the background, the novelist’s only native country is Cloud-Cuckooland, where they do but jest, poison in jest: no offense in the world.

I shall now return to my own version of CCL. I think the name of my world is different, but it hasn’t whispered itself to me yet.


Why I Stayed, Why I Left, Why it Matters

Earlier this year I was approached to write a one act play for the Actor’s Theater of Orcas Island for a November production.

Honored with the privilege of having my play in the company of two superlative playwrights, Lin McNulty and James Wolf, I realized that 30 minutes of slapstick comedy (what I generally do for my ten minute plays) wasn’t going to work.

Armed with the theme of Homecoming, I set about doing something different.

During this time, my parents had stumbled upon an episode of the 48 Hours, which to their disbelief featured a friend’s son, a childhood friend of my brother’s.


John Wall is accused and charged with murder of his ex wife Uta, von Schwelder.

Uta’s family put up a Blog for justice: http://justiceforuta.com/

This tragedy haunted me. Mostly, I hate to think of the children experiencing this nightmare involving their parents. The trial isn’t until next year and may or may not prove to be murder, but it did make me wonder what could drive someone to kill . . .

From this, I found a foundation of an idea.

A man, a woman, and another unusual character (you’ll have to see the play to understand).

While I worked on my play, Ray Rice’s abuse story flooded the news media. In my advanced composition course, students writing on the topic shared their stories about domestic abuse.

Others asked, “Why didn’t you just leave?”

But, it isn’t that easy.

Why I Stayed

This hashtag created by Beverly Gooden prompts many stories on Twitter.

Obligation, financial, children (or not), religion, fear, love, confusion . . .

the belief that the person abusing will change.

The thing is a relationship cannot be all good or all bad.

The places where Love/Hate Possession/Freedom Passion/Pain intersects . . . This is where bad (or good) can happen, and I chose to explore the situations where things go wrong.

Why I Left

It takes courage to leave an abusive relationship. It requires stepping off a precipice into a deep unknown. Leaving often means changing everything and having the resources and support to do so safely. Leaving can also mean creating a more dangerous situation if the abusive partner cannot let go.

Why It Matters

This month, Orcas Island hosts the Silent Witness Initiative. If you go to the Village Green in Eastsound, you will find twenty-six silhouettes of those who died from domestic violence this past year in Washington State.

Silent Witness


In the October fog, the image is reminiscent of a graveyard, a reminder of where domestic violence can lead.

In November, “Lilacs” will open with two great plays by Lin and James. For those of you on Orcas, I hope to see you.

But here’s what’s truly important:

Love should be love,

not possession,

not cruelty,

not damage, pain, injury,

Not murder.

That’s why it matters.

My Bikini Selfies

My adventures with #PitMad

I had a nightmare dream this weekend. I stood before a mirror in a tiny string bikini with one of those boob enhancing tops (Victoria Secrets most likely). I took a bunch of selfies and posted them all over social media sites, grinning all the way.

I woke up with a gasp, a pause, and a flood of relief. It was only a dream. I didn’t just post my body all over the Internet. In real world I would never post a bikini selfie. No way. It’s just not my style.

First of all, I don’t wear string bikinis. My style is more board shorts with an athletic top that can take a plunge in the water without falling off. And even then, I don’t take selfies. My suits are utilitarian, not for sharing with the world.

If I do take a selfie, it looks something like this:


I shared a selfie with you! Note that my eyes are hidden behind my big frames, my face framed by my messy hair, and my body concealed under comfy shirt.


I’m safe.


Yesterday I had an experience that matched my weekend sleep. Not the nightmare dream itself, but the absolute dread I experienced just as I woke up and believed I had compromised my vulnerability to the world. Yesterday, #PitMad took place on Twitter. For those of you who are unfamiliar with #PitMad, I believe it’s a creation of the author, Brenda Drake. It’s a Twitter opportunity for writers to get their pitches in front of agents and editors.

A writer creates a short pitch (140 characters) of a completed manuscript and posts it during certain times on a specific day. If agents and editors favor your pitch, you have the opportunity send queries and sample pages.

At first I wasn’t going to participate. It’s not my style. I write books and plays; I’m not a pitch artist. I don’t like shouting out the world, “Hey, look at me! Notice my work!” I’d rather quietly send out query letters the traditional way.

Could an agent or editor judge my work from a pitch? It felt like I was holding out a potato chip when the real menu included a delightful and complex home cooked meal.

But then I thought, why not? It’s just a pitch. A pitch is a valuable thing to write. It helps writers get to the essence of their work and consider theme.

Creating pitches wasn’t too difficult, but those short blurbs didn’t feel right. How can a pitch truly reveal the motivations of my main character? How can I convey what she truly wants? She is a girl with both an urgent drive and overwhelming doubt. She learns to trust her own human ingenuity and learn to love and accept those around her. And how can I cram the fantasy world with all the landscape, creatures, and magic I created into 140 characters?

I paused before I Tweeted. Who would judge me? Who would think, “Gosh, Michèle, how desperate are you?”

I also found a fake PitMad hashtag. Here’s mine:

Michèle Griskey @mmgriskey · 7h

Discouraged writer laments her fate considers career as a hermit potter or impostor nun. #fakepitmad

See, it’s easy for me to be self depreciating and sarcastic. It was much harder to be honest and say, “Please favor my pitch!”


Because I experience fear–a fear that wakes me up when I’m not having selfie dreams. A fear that aches and catches my breath. A fear I push away over and over again so fear doesn’t ruin my life.


What if no one wants to read what I wrote?


When I see all the other pitches I am both alarmed and, well, connected. Alarmed because so many writers reach out to get noticed. The competition is fierce. This is nothing new, however.

I feel connected because I think, perhaps, many of those writers feel like I do.


It’s scary to put yourself out in the world, yet we’re doing it together in our collective vulnerability.

Now #PitMad is over, and I can return to my quieter approach to reaching out. No more bikini selfies.

Would I do Pitch Madness again?

It’s not a bad idea, not at all,


I hope in the most humongous way I won’t need to pitch on Twitter again.

Picture Books and Plays

A light went on (so to speak).

A connection I hadn’t thought of before fused in an unexpected way.

In April I was at the Western Washington SCBWI Conference. I attended Justin Chanda’s session on editing picture books. Justin Chanda is the vice president and publisher of a bunch of imprints at Simon and Schuster, and he edited, among many other books, Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s book, Battle Bunny, a book I happen to adore.

Justin Chanda was fantastic! Not only did he hand out actual manuscripts for three great picture books (I love, love, love models to work from), but he explained how he felt editing was a lot like directing a play.

This is when I had my connection.

During the month of April I was working on “Main Course,” my short comedy I wrote for the Orcas Island Ten Minute Playfest. I attended rehearsals as a very talented director worked with actors to create life from my script.

The results were much more awesome than I even imagined. I never grow tired of the magic which transforms words on a script to a live performance.

Stage Magic with Adam and Brian
Stage Magic with Adam and Brian

Adam, Aaimee, and Brian
Adam, Aaimee, and Brian

(Photos by Michael Armenia)

When Mr. Chanda made the director/editor connection, I could totally see this. The editor, like the director, coaxes and encourages the story along. As I considered the writing versus the finished picture book, I thought, perhaps, the artist is like the actors; the ones who make the story come to life.

Suddenly I could see what I do as a playwright in relation to what I could do as a picture book writer.

Playwright, director, actors: Performance

Writer, editor, artist: Book or story.


I love it when this happens!


Three Essential Things about Persistence

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

–Calvin Coolidge

How many times can we wrestle past our doubts and try again?



This TED Talk on stress caught my attention today. I’ve been told by many well meaning friends and family members—even my doctor—that I’m too high strung and stressed out, and my stress will make me sick.

Yes, yes, I get it! Yet, some intuitive vibe told me certain kinds of stress have helped me. I couldn’t quite articulate what I meant until I saw this. Thank you Kelly McGonigal for giving me science to explain my vibe.

You see, when we believe we are feeling the stress because it’s helping us, we feel good and our body responds appropriately. It also makes us connect with others (the beautiful part). I learned long ago that sleeping through life wasn’t going to work, and though I’m a bundle of irrational fear, I jump in and make it happen—even if that meant stressing out.

The following thought is most likely universal for all writers when they face agents, editors, and their critique group. This is my brain talking:

I live in the world of this manuscript. I poured everything into this story. I’m pretty sure a piece of my heart is now missing.  With that said, I’m willing to rip everything apart and start over again if it means making it better.

The past couple of years I’ve been more stressed out about my writing than I ever have been before, yet I’m also more excited. I’ve faced more disappointments and setbacks, more doubts and moments where I wonder what I’m even doing. The doubt drops away. I’m elated, I’m lost in the world on the page, and my ideas bounce around like those little rubber balls in a small room.


I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.


This book takes a scientific look at the habits we form, and it made me think about a few of my own habits, particularly writing.

I get up at five to write in the morning. I’m not a morning person (well, a 7 a.m. person, not a 5 a.m. person), yet I love having a quiet hour to crawl into my story. My dog interrupts me sometimes. Otherwise, I have my solitude—oh and that cup of coffee. . .

After reading Duhigg’s book, I think that first perfect hot cup of stovetop espresso is as much of a reward as my uninterrupted writing time. I don’t drink copious amounts of coffee, but the first cup is the best. Early morning hour writing = coffee. It sounds so unromantic, but if it helps me squeeze an extra meaningful writing hour in my busy day, I’ll take it.


Recently, my youngest son joined the middle school basketball team. It came as a bit of a surprise. Though we encourage exercise in our family, team sports hasn’t played a big role. Up until now, both my sons have been more interested in individual activities like parkour, weight lifting, swimming, and running. We’ve never even watched a professional sports game (no, not even the Super bowl).

I like basketball. It’s fast and furious. It requires skill and speed, but also, like many sports, it requires that in-the-moment/in-the-face approach. My son is very talented with defense (ahem, parental pride moment). He’s not afraid to get in the thick of things and keep the other team from scoring. Watching these boys focus is nothing short of amazing. As some of you might know, middle school is a weird time in life. Focus isn’t always part of the picture, so the intention and connection really stands out.

How it Works:

As writers we know stress is part of the game, and it will help us become better writers.  We have to get out on the metaphorical court, run like mad and attempt to score over and over again. Our writing is a habit worth developing and cultivating, even if we have to bribe ourselves with a morning cup of steaming caffeine. Even if we have to remind ourselves over and over again that one day we will write something beautiful; our words will resonate with readers. A million setbacks and disappointments may be part of the picture, but so will the joy of creating and connecting.

Those quiet dreams start out as shimmers of possibility and blossom into a life worth living.